Kim Il Sung's Life to the Korean War

 1912 - 1950s


A teenage Kim Il-song


According to some sources, Kim Il-Sung was born Kim Song Juh, the eldest of three sons of converted Christians and changed his name to take that of a respected resistance leader. He was born in Mangyong-dae, outside Pyongyang in April 15, 1912, the son of farmers. His father was named Kim Hyong-jik and his mother was named Kang Pan-sok. His father was born in 1894 and spent most of his life in Manchuria running a herb pharmacy and died in 1926 at the age of 22. Kim later erected monuments for his parents. His brother Kim Hyong-gwon was arrested in Hogwon after fighting against the local policeand died in prison in 1936.


Korea had been occupied by the Japanese two years prior to Kim's birth. Crops were often taken by Japanese troops, leaving the family little to eat. When Kim Il Sung was a child, his father joined the Chinese guerrillas fighting the Japanese after being jailed .According to North Korean sources, the seven year old  Kim Il Sung participated in the March 1919 uprising against Japanese rule. Conditions became so bad, that the family, like many Koreans of the time moved when Kim was eight to Joong-gang, near the China-Korean border and soon into Chinese Manchuria after his father discovered he was on a Japanese blacklist. When Kim was 12, his father was arrested for his resistance efforts, but managed to escape. However, his father's health was weakened by imprisonment and died in 1928 when Kim was 14 . According to North Korean sources, his father gave him his pistol and urged him to join the resistance on his deathbed. In 1931, Kim joined the Communist Party, one of the most active groups fighting the Japanese. This caused him to be expelled from school at eighth grade ( ending his formal education ) and Kim started his path as a resistance fighter.  


Kim Il-sung (Back row, 3rd from left ) in 1938 in command of the

 Sixth Division of the Second Directional Army in Jilin, China


His mother died on July 31, 1932, making his other two brothers orphans . According to North Korean claims, Kim formed his own partisan force in 1932 of 18 Korean fighters . There was mistrust between the Korean and Chinese resistance fighters as the Japanese often employed Korean collaborators to infiltrate the Chinese fighters, leading to many Korean fighters to be expelled from the Chinese forces. This problem was diffused for the most part by a conference led by Wei Zhengmin who persuaded many Koreans to stay and fight in the United Army .Kim was one of the few Koreans who was trusted by the Chinese because of his ability to speak Chinese. Those Koreans that remained with the Chinese forces were treated better, especially after the Chinese Communist Party issued the August First Declaration calling for a united front of all ethnic groups in Manchuria against the Japanese.


Under the Loving Care of the Fatherly Leader:

North Korea and the Kim Dynasty


Chinese anti-Japanese forces absorbed most of the Korean resistance fighters to combat the Japanese and later Manchukuo forces. Kim fought in a group of mostly Koreans in the Chinese Anti-Japanese army and changed his name from Kim Song-ju to Kim Il-sung.  The army that evolved to fight the Japanese in Manchuria which Kim served in from 1932 to 1941 was the Chinese Communist Northeast Anti-Japanese United Army led by Yang Jingyu . Kim joined the Second Army of the United Army, which was heavily made up of Koreans and rose through the ranks. Eventually becoming the Sixth Division commander of about 100 men. Wei Zhengmin, became the commander of the Second Army after the two previous commanders had been killed in Battle. Wei became Kim's mentor and good friend. Causalities were high among the resistance fighters. Kim led small bands of resistance fighters into Korea attacking remote Japanese outposts. The Japanese posted a bounty for information leading to the arrest of Kim Il-sung.


Kim Il Sung

Suh has produced a first rate historical study of

the North Korean leader, his life and his politics


On Feb 26, 1937 Kim led a group of about 250 guerrillas ambused a Japanese force at Limingshui near Paekdu or Changbai mountain, killing 13 officers, 14 soldiers and taking 17 prisoners.


The Pochonbo and Musan Raids


The most famous and successful raid by Kim was the raid on Pochonbo, a Korean town just over the Manchurian border. Kim's Sixth Division of about 200 fighters attacked the town on June 4, 1937, destroying to Japanese colonial buildings and occupied the town for a day, then retreated to Manchuria. A Japanese police force pursed Kim, but Kim's forces were able to kill seven of the pursuers. Kim also joined the Fourth Division under the command of the Korean Choe Hyon on a raid on Musan in Manchuria on June 6, 1937, attacking a timber camp, killing 10 Japanese and taking 9 hostages. These raids made Kim famous and known to the Japanese.



 Report from DPRK state radio on a visit to the

Korean Revolution Museum



Kim fought all through 1938 and 1939, mostly in Manchuria. In the early months of 1940, Kim was tracked by the Japanese police headed by Maeda Takeshi . they were completely defeated by Kim's force of about 250 men and Maeda and 58 Japanese police officers were killed on March 25, 1940. Kim's largest command was about 300 men at the height of his operations from 1937 to 1940.


Japanese forces under General Nozoe intensified their efforts against  the resistance fighters, especially Kim , eventually killing the Chinese commander Yang Jingyu on Feb 23, 1940 and most of the other leaders in the United Army. .Many resistance fighters were induced to surrender with offers of amnesty and rewards and were very useful to the Japanese in tracking down the resistance fighters. Wei Zhengmen was killed in battle on March 8, 1941.


Kim Il-sung was one of the few leaders to escape to the Soviet Union in the early 1940s. It is said that Kim only had six men with him when he crossed the border. Korean guerrillas were welcome into the Soviet Union and were trained in Vladivostok, Nikolsk and Khabarovsk. Kim was trained at the camp near Vladivostok . It was reported that there were about 700 Korean and Chinese guerrillas in the Soviet Union taking orders from Soviet officers . Some of the training included parachute exercises. The Soviet Union planned to use the guerrillas in case of a war with Japan, and these were men with fighting experience and knew the land. There are some reports of Kim returning to Manchuria to fight the Japanese after entering the Soviet Union. Kim was reported to have been promoted to major of the 88th Division in the Far eastern Command of the Soviet army. When Kim first arrived in Korea after the war, he was wearing a the uniform of a Soviet major.


Kim met his future wife, Kim Jung Suk, also a resistance fighter during his 5 year stay in the Soviet Union, whom he married in 1941, their son, Kim Jong-Il was born in 1941.


Kim Il Sung is regarded as having founded the Anti-Japanese People's Guerrilla Army

on April 25, 1932 in north Korea. April 25 is Army Day in North Korea, a major holiday.


North Korean Army flag, with date of founding of

Anti-Japanese People's Guerrilla Army


A young Kim Jong Il, with his father,

Kim Il Sung and mother Kim Jung Suk


In 1945, the Soviet Union, which had invaded Korea in the waning days of World War Two, groomed the young Kim Il-Sung in charge of the government of North Korea. He was a hero in Korea due to his resistance fighting, but had a limited formal education due to the war.By this time, Kim's Korean language was not fluent, after spending so many years in China and needed some tutoring . Kim returned to Korea in September 1945. His wife, Kim Jong-Il, younger son Shura and daughter joined him a few months later. Shura  (Kim Pyong-il) died tragically a few months later in the pool, according to some, possibly while playing with Kim Jong-Il. Kim Jung-Suk died in 1949 of tuberculosis or, according to some sources, during childbirth. Kim established a professional army, the Korean's People's Army .



1949 Kim Il Sung asks for Stalin's backing



Rare North Korean film, circa 1946-1950, featuring then Prime Minister

Kim Il-sung, father of Kim Jong-il.



 Kim Il Sung with Mao Zedong in 1958


During the Korean War, Kim Jong-il and his sister were sent to China for safety. Stalin provided equipment for the new army and air force. The United Nations called for all-Korean elections sponsored by the United Nations, however in May 1948 the South declared statehood as the Republic of Korea, and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea was proclaimed on September 9th, with Kim as premier. On 12 October, the Soviet Union recognized Kim's government as the only lawful government on the peninsula. Like the personality cult of Stalin in the Soviet Union, statues of Kim began to be erected in North Korea.


During and after the Korean War, Kim eliminated his enemies and rivals and became a super human being as promoted by his peronality cult. Kim's birthplace of Man-gyongdae was made into a national shrine where millions of North Koreans make a pilgrimage.



Comrades Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il working together



 Post War

North Korea


 Reconstruction & Growth

The 1960s